Roundup Record Tribune & Winnett Times -

Minutes Musselshell Watershed Coalition Meeting


March 18, 2020

February 11, 2020

Present: Bill Milton, Facilitator; Laura Nowlin, Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator; Wendy Beye, MWC Scribe; Craig Dalgarno, Upper Musselshell Water Users Association; Leon Hammond, Deadman’s Basin Water Users Association; Wendy Jones, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Administrator; Shirley Parrott, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Supervisor; Carie Hess, Petroleum County Conservation District Administrator; Dusty Olson, Garfield County Conservation District Administrator; Brian Hauschild, Big Sky Watershed Corps; Andrew Sanders, Big Sky Watershed Corps; Meriel Beck, Musselshell/Golden Valley Weed Coordinator; Gary Olsen, Wheatland County Weed Coordinator; Clint Smith, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks; Ryan Taynton, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks; Scott Graham, Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality; Reba Ahlgren, NRCS Winnett Field Office; Devin Roloff, NRCS Harlowton Field Office; Ethan McJames, NRCS Harlowton Field Office; Mike Lucas, NRCS Winnett Field Office; Austin Shero, NRCS Roundup Field Office; Arin Peters, NOAA National Weather Service; Shane Moe, Rancher; Doug Parrott, Rancher

Facilitator Bill Milton called the meeting to order at 12:03 p.m. Introductions followed, with the question “What do you think about the wind?”

Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator Report:

Laura Nowlin said a series of Aquatic Invasive Species meetings has been scheduled in the area, with one in Roundup February 20, 6:00 p.m. at the NRCS office, 747 Main Street. Allison Zach, invasive species program coordinator from Nebraska will talk about invasive mussels and leafy spurge. AIS funding paid for some mussel larvae monitoring kits for sampling waters in Eastern Montana this summer. Brian Hauschild and Andrew Sanders, the new Big Sky Watershed Corps members serving in the Musselshell, attended training with Montana Watershed Coordination Council. The Cooperative Weed Management Area project is helping to pay for Andrew’s service, and he will be doing some weed mapping in the area this summer. This year’s snowpack in the Musselshell/Judith area mountains is above average, but precipitation has been below normal so far in 2020 south of Highway 200 on the Musselshell Plains.

Musselshell River Distribution Project Annual Report

The report has been postponed to the April MWC meeting. Word is that Peter Marchi will be Chief Water Commissioner this year, while Craig Dalgarno is in training to take over next year.

NOAA National Weather Service Presentation:

Arin Peters from the Great Falls National Weather Service office presented information on prediction and current conditions products available online for those interested in water resources and climate. The products cover drought, flooding, snowpack, ice jams, and water supply.

At present, the only counties in Montana experiencing dryer than normal conditions are Cascade, Teton, and Pondera. Landowner reports are important in determining drought levels in our area because there are so few official reporting stations east of the divide in Montana. Two products that help identify potential drought conditions are the Standardized Precipitation Evapotransporation Index (SPEI) at and the Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) at The indices consider how wind, high temperatures, and plant water use, depending on the season, dry soil. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has a website where drought reports can be submitted at That information is then forwarded to the national Climate Prediction Center.

Snowfall data collected at most stations is not totally reliable because the stations are not heated, and wind can blow the snow over the top of the collection containers or platforms. For predictive purposes, the NWS uses Snotel data, satellite data, and even research aircraft overflights. Flood predictions are made from these data for the whole Missouri River Basin in Kansas City, Missouri. River streamflow predictions are only given for particular points (coinciding with streamflow gages) on the Musselshell River, from Lavina downstream, using data from the Upper Musselshell. Flood stages of minor, moderate,

and major are based on the impacts the flooding has on infrastructure and residences. The predictions can only cover short segments upstream and downstream of forecast points. Prediction of floods is difficult

because of the many variables and unknowns in snowpack, precipitation, soil moisture, and ever-changing river channels. In Montana, significant flooding can be forecast about five days before occurrence.

Current streamflow information from USGS is available at

The following websites have graphics of current conditions, predictions of precipitation and flooding, and other information useful to residents of the watershed.,,

If predictions are to be improved, we need more accurate and widespread capture of data. The Army Corps of Engineers is contemplating installing hundreds of new weather stations in the Missouri River Basin to help with flood prediction. Bill Milton suggested talking to Kevin Hyde, who manages the Montana Mesonet program, to make sure efforts are being coordinated.

Bill also reminded MWC partners that we have been supporting stream gage maintenance costs for the Musselshell River Basin. The Montana State Legislature created a committee in 2019 to study and make recommendations on how to fund streamflow gages into the future. That committee has not yet adopted a plan for how to communicate the importance of the gages to legislators. Bill has been working with Paul Azevedo from DNRC to write such a report to be submitted to the Water Policy Interim Committee and the Governor’s drought program. We need to work to develop a pool of landowners, local government officials, and agency personnel who would be willing to testify in support of legislation to provide longterm

funding for the gages across the state.

Field Reports:

• Craig Dalgarno Upper Musselshell Water Users Association Manager said both Bair and

Martinsdale Reservoirs are at winter pool, and both have finally iced over. An RRGL is in the works for Two Dot canal improvements.

• Leon Hammond reported that Deadman’s reservoir is at 86% of winter pool. It will only take a

few days to top it off to full pool in the spring. The main release gate on the dam will only receive a temporary fix this fall, with a permanent fix postponed. Leon has been working with Gary Olson on a weed control plan for easements along canals and around the reservoir. The DBWUA has applied for a 223 grant for more work on the inlet canal.

• Carie Hess said the Mosby-Musselshell Watershed Group has disbanded and the Horse Creek Coulee project has been dropped. An RRGL grant received for additional engineering work might be moved to be used for Delphia/Melstone Water Users Association work on a project to control distribution of water to DMWUA members.

Agency/ Partner Reports:

• Lower Musselshell Conservation District -- Administrator Wendy Jones reported that LMCD has scheduled four Aquatic Invasive Species meetings, a weed pull event at the Musselshell County Fairgrounds and a one-day weed workshop in partnership with the Extension Office. More forest fire fuel mitigation will be accomplished with a 50/50 cost share with landowners. There are three Conservation District Supervisor positions open to be filled this year.

• Garfield County Conservation District -- Administrator Dusty Olsen is administering grantmoney for forest fuel mitigation projects, and will conduct a composting workshop, annual kids’ day, and an environmental event for local high schoolers. Sage Grouse oversight team leases are being negotiated. There will be a 310 permit meeting coming up, and AIS boat inspection stations at Flowing Wells and Wibaux will open in April. Part time and full time employees are needed.

The Little Dry Watershed group is having a potluck in celebration of 50 years since they


• Petroleum County Conservation District -- Carie Hess reported the district is working on a long-range, five-year plan. A change in 310 permit rules will allow a 30-day appeal period. A 223 grant will help pay for testing of soil carbon content, and landowners are encouraged to sign up. Former BSWC member Colin McClure from the Western Sustainability Exchange is the person to contact. Weed control is scheduled on Flatwillow Creek for leafy spurge and salt cedar. More wildland fire fuel mitigation project work will be done, and workshops conducted. Sage grouse leases are in the works, and there are several ACES projects the CD is helping with.

• Big Sky Watershed Corps -- The new BSWC members are Brian Hauschild, who will be

responsible for the Volunteer Salinity Monitoring project, and Andrew Sanders, who will be

mapping weeds this summer. Scott Graham from DEQ will provide a floating continuous salinity monitor to place in the river, and may have a second monitor available. He may also have access to a special drone-mounted hyper-spectral camera that can be used to help map weeds. The Bureau of Mines has completed drilling a number of wells on the Musselshell that will be used to monitor groundwater salinity.

• MWC Scribe/Publicist -- Wendy Beye wondered whether the soil carbon monitoring project

mentioned by Carie Hess could be coordinated with Bill Milton’s Range Monitoring Group


• County Weed Departments -- Gary Olson from Wheatland County wasn’t able to obtain grant

money this year due to health issues, but NRCS will help with costs in Judith Gap, Harlowton,

Fish Creek, and Sweetgrass County. Meriel Beck from Musselshell/Golden Valley has some

continuing projects and will work with Petroleum County to coordinate projects.

• NRCS -- Austin Shero reported that 35 Focused Conservation Initiative TIPs (Targeted

Implementation Plans), have been submitted statewide. All have been reviewed and returned to the

state office for assignment of a “readiness” grade. Included in the Musselshell watershed TIPs are

invasive weed control in Wheatland County; irrigation efficiency in the Musselshell River corridor

from Martinsdale to Melstone; and forestry fuel mitigation projects from Roundup to Musselshell.

Next year’s TIPs will be due at the state level by the end of June, 2020. Ethan McJames is the new

District Conservationist in Harlowton. He is focusing on “optics and metrics” - what are NRCS

dollars accomplishing? Mike Lucas, Winnett office, is working on TIPs for 2021 including BLM

forestry fuels mitigation project. Weed management on Flatwillow Creek may have to wait until

2022 for funding.

• Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks -- Clint Smith said fisheries research this summer

will be looking for beaver ponds in the Flatwillow Creek area. Bill Milton said he has a new

beaver pond on Willow Creek for the first time in 30 years. There will be a fish habitat project

near Mosby. Mike Ruggles sent questions via Ryan Taynton, who was happy to hear that the

Deadman’s Basin main dam headgate project will not require a drawdown of water in the


• Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality -- Scott Graham is working on permits for the

Meathouse Road project. Documents to solicit contractors should be issued in March, with work

beginning in August and completed by October.

Next Meeting:

The next MWC meeting will be Tuesday, April 14, noon, at the NRCS office on Main in Roundup. Laura

Nowlin will work on finding room on a future meeting agenda for Kevin Hyde to present a program on

the Montana Mesonet. She will ask him for an update on the installation of new stations, in light of what

the Army Corps of Engineers may be planning.


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